Open main menu

Henry of Blois (DNB00)


HENRY of Blois (d. 1171), bishop of Winchester, fourth son of Stephen, count of Blois, and Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, and brother of Theobald, count of Blois and Champagne, and of King Stephen, was brought up from childhood in the monastery of Clugny, and was in 1126 invited to England by his uncle, Henry I, who procured for him the abbacy of Glastonbury. In October 1129, when he could not have been more than twenty-eight, he was elected to the see of Winchester, and was consecrated at Canterbury on 17 Nov. From both the pope and the king he received permission to hold his abbey along with his bishopric, and he continued to do so until his death. During his forty-five years' administration at Glastonbury he showed himself an active and exemplary ruler; he maintained discipline, and increased the prosperity of the abbey, recovering for it several estates which had fallen into other hands. He built there a palace called the Castle, a gateway, the cloister, the refectory, and the rest of the domestic buildings, besides the bell-tower of the church, which seems in other respects to have almost been completed by his two predecessors. At Winchester and in other places in his diocese he also built much and splendidly. Sufficiently learned, noble, rich, liberal, and magnificent, he soon became the most powerful of the English bishops. Like his uncle, King Henry, he was fond of zoology, and formed a collection of beasts and birds, some of them of curious kinds. His temper was calm and his will resolute; he was eloquent and courageous. Throughout his life his policy was determined by his desire to promote what he held to be the interest of the church; he was thoroughly imbued with the Clugniac spirit, and used the vast power which he acquired to uphold and magnify the position of the clergy. He was ambitious for himself, and did not hesitate to employ worldly means in the pursuit of his aims; like other prelates of his time, he was, it was said, half monk and half knight (De Contemptu Mundi, p. 315). Yet he was highly esteemed by such men as Peter the Venerable and Archbishop Becket; his life was pure, and John of Salisbury speaks warmly of his universal liberality towards the church (Ep. ii. 164).

On the death of Henry I, Henry of Blois made strenuous but fruitless efforts to persuade William of Pont l'Arche, the treasurer at Winchester, to give him up the castle, in order that he might secure the royal treasure for Stephen. Stephen, whose success depended largely on his brother's influence, went at once to Winchester after his election in London. Henry met him at the head of the principal citizens, and received him as king. When William of Corbeuil, archbishop of Canterbury, hesitated to perform the coronation rite, he offered himself as surety that his brother would preserve the liberty of the church, and so procured him the crown. He joined Stephen at the siege of Exeter, and persuaded him to reject the terms offered by the besieged, for he saw by their wasted faces that they would soon be forced to surrender at discretion [see under Baldwin de Redvers]. On the death of Archbishop William in 1136 he hoped to succeed to the see of Canterbury, and is said to have actually been elected (Orderic, p. 908). In Advent he left England to obtain the papal sanction to his translation, sent messengers to Innocent II, and spent the rest of the winter in northern France. Innocent refused his consent, and Theobald was elected in December 1138. Henry was deeply mortified: it is said that the pope's refusal was due to the influence of Stephen and his queen, and that Henry's later desertion of his brother's cause was due to his anger at their interference. It is probable that Stephen was unwilling to see him acquire greater power, but his change of sides was decided by other causes. The pope thought highly of him, and on 1 March 1139 appointed him legate in England. This appointment, which he did not at once make known, was greatly to the prejudice of the see of Canterbury, for it gave him higher authority than the metropolitan. One of his early acts as legate was to send back to their old house the body of canons which the convent of Christchurch had planted at Dover. He had for some time been engaged in building. In 1138 he pulled down the palace of the Conqueror, which stood near his church, and with the materials built the strong castle known as Wolvesey House, and further built the castles of Farnham, Merdon, Waltham, Dunton, and Taunton. He also began the hospital of St. Cross outside Winchester.

The imprisonment of the bishops of Salisbury and Ely excited his strong disapproval. If they had done wrong, they should, he said, have been judged according to the canons, nor should their possessions have been seized without the sentence of an ecclesiastical council. In company with the archbishop he implored Stephen not to make a breach between the crown and the church. As legate, he called a council of the church to meet at Winchester on 29 Aug., and commanded the attendance of the king. He was looked upon as the ‘lord of England’ (Gervase, i. 100). After the council had heard his commission as legate read, he charged Stephen, who appeared by proctors, with treachery and sacrilege, and bade the archbishop and bishops deliberate on the matter, adding that neither his relationship to the king nor the risk of losing lands or life should hinder him from carrying out their sentence. Stephen was compelled to appear in person and receive the rebuke of the church. The council was dissolved on 1 Sept. Immediately afterwards the legate with a large body of knights joined his brother, who was besieging the empress in Arundel Castle. It was said that he had already made terms with the Earl of Gloucester, the chief supporter of the empress, but this was probably untrue (Gesta Stephani, p. 56). He advised the king to let the empress join the earl at Bristol, so that he might act against both at the same time; his advice is said (without proof) to have been treacherous. Stephen agreed, and the legate and the Count of Meulan were sent to conduct Matilda in safety. At Christmas Henry went to the court held at Salisbury, and there urged the appointment of Henry, son of his eldest brother, William de Sully, to the vacant see of Salisbury. His recommendation was rejected, and he left the court in anger (Orderic, p. 920). Soon after Whitsuntide 1140 he arranged negotiations for peace, and went to Bath, where, in company with the archbishop and the queen, he appeared for Stephen. Peace was not made, and the declaration of the representatives of the empress that she would submit her cause to the judgment of the church, while the king was unwilling to adopt such a course, probably increased the legate's alienation from his brother. In September he crossed to France, and conferred with Louis VII, with his brother, Count Theobald, and with many members of the monastic orders on English affairs, returning about the end of November with further proposals for peace, which were in favour of the empress rather than of the king. When Stephen rejected them, he probably decided to join the empress's party as soon as a good opportunity for doing so arose.

After the battle of Lincoln the empress sent proposals to him on 16 Feb. 1141, and on Sunday 1 March he went, according to agreement, to confer with her outside Winchester. She offered that, if he would receive her and be faithful to her, she would be guided by him in all the greater affairs of the realm, and especially in all preferments to bishoprics and abbacies, and the chief men of her party guaranteed that she should keep this engagement. On this he swore fealty to her, and the next day led her to the cathedral, where she was received by him and other bishops with much solemnity, as though she was about to receive coronation, the legate pronouncing a blessing on her friends and excommunication against her enemies. On 7 April he held a council at Winchester, to which came Archbishop Theobald, all the bishops, and many abbots. With them he had private conferences, and the next day made a speech in which he advocated the claim of the empress, declared that Stephen had broken his promise to honour the church, dwelt on his bad administration and his violence towards the bishops, and announced that on the previous day the clergy, to whom it chiefly pertained to elect and consecrate their prince, had chosen Matilda as lady of England and Normandy. All present either applauded or at least refrained from dissent, and he then adjourned the session until the arrival of the citizens of London on the following day. When they came they prayed that Stephen might be released from captivity. Henry repeated his oration of the day before, and added that it did not become them to favour Stephen's party. A clerk then handed him a petition from the queen on her husband's behalf. He declared it unfit to be read, but the clerk read it, and he answered him as he had answered the Londoners. Matilda soon offended him by refusing to allow his nephew, Eustace, the continental possessions of Stephen. He left her court; had an informal interview with his sister-in-law, the queen, at Guildford; yielded to her entreaties, and, without consulting the other bishops, absolved Stephen's party from excommunication, and declared that he would do his best to procure the king's liberation. The Earl of Gloucester went to Winchester, and vainly tried to arrange the quarrel, and the empress marched at once to Winchester. As she entered the city the bishop leapt on his horse and rode in haste into Wolvesey Castle. The empress invited him to come and speak with her; he returned answer, ‘I will make myself ready,’ and sent to summon all the king's party to his aid. Meanwhile the empress besieged his palace and his new fortress with a large army, in which were David, king of Scotland, Robert of Gloucester, and other earls and barons. Before long Stephen's lords came to his aid, and with them the queen, and the Flemish mercenaries, and a force of Londoners. Then, in turn, the bishop and his allies besieged the besiegers. Outside Winchester the queen ‘with all her strength’ laid waste the country, and intercepted provisions, so that ‘there was great hunger therein’ (Anglo-Saxon Chron. a. 1140), while from Wolvesey Tower burning missiles were, by the bishop's orders, shot down on the houses of the burghers, who were on the side of the empress. The city was fired, the ‘Nuns’ minster was burnt, and even Hyde Abbey beyond the walls was destroyed. Fire and famine brought the empress's army to despair. Robert of Gloucester prepared to retreat, and on the evening of 14 Sept. the bishop ordered that peace should be proclaimed and the gates opened. The empress escaped, but as Earl Robert was issuing from the city with his force, the bishop gave the signal for attack, and he was overpowered and taken prisoner. Winchester was sacked by the Londoners and others of the king's party, apparently with the bishop's goodwill (Cont. Flor. Wig. ii. 134). Since he became bishop he had been on bad terms with the Hyde convent, and he ordered the treasure of the house which could be gathered after the fire to be brought to him. A famous cross, with the image of the Lord wrought with much gold, silver, and precious stones, and given to the church by Canute [q. v.], was melted, and the metal brought to the bishop was put at sixty pounds of silver and fifteen pounds of gold. On 7 Dec. the legate held another council at Westminster, at which the king was present. He stated that he had received the empress under compulsion, and that she had since infringed the rights of the church and had plotted against him; he commanded all to obey the king, and denounced all who upheld the Angevin countess as excommunicate. Either fear or reverence kept all the clergy silent, but a layman sent by the empress spoke sharply on his mistress's side, and contradicted the legate to his face. Henry kept his temper, and would not give way.

Henry's power largely rested on his legatine office, which would terminate with the life of the pope. Anxious to place it on a firmer basis, he formed a scheme for the exaltation of his bishopric to metropolitan rank. Six sees (Salisbury, Exeter, Wells, Chichester, Hereford, and Worcester) were to be withdrawn from the province of Canterbury; a seventh suffragan was to have his see in Hyde Abbey; and the seven sees were to form a new province under him. It is doubtfully said that he went to Rome on this matter (cf. Annales de Winton, p. 53), and that in 1142 the pope actually sent him a pall (Ralph de Diceto, i. 255). In Lent 1142 the legate held a council in London, in which an attempt was made to check the evils of the civil war. A canon was published forbidding any violation of the right of sanctuary in a church or churchyard or any violence to a clerk or monk under a special penalty, and declaring that the husbandman and his plough were everywhere to be as safe as though in a church. In the summer of 1143 Henry joined his brother in turning the nunnery at Wilton into a fortress to be a check on Salisbury, which was on the side of the empress. On 1 July Earl Robert fired the town and routed the king's troops, so that he and the bishop barely made good their escape.

Henry also acted with his brother in the matter of the archbishopric of York. On the death of Archbishop Thurstan in 1140 he promoted the election of his nephew Henry de Sully, then abbot of Fécamp, but the election was quashed by the pope because the abbot would not give up his monastery. Another of the legate's nephews, William Fitzherbert [q. v.], son of his sister Emma, was then chosen, and the legate sent him to Rome for confirmation. A strong party in the York chapter protested against the election. Nevertheless the legate had his will; he held a council at Winchester in September 1143, at which a bishop and two abbots took an oath that the election was free and canonical, and on the 26th he consecrated his nephew, the Archbishop of Canterbury refusing his assent. Two days previously Innocent II died, and with his death Henry's legatine commission came to an end. He set out for Rome in the hope of obtaining a renewal of it from the new pope, Celestine II. The pope, however, appointed Archbishop Theobald, and Henry spent the winter in retirement in his old monastery at Clugny. Celestine died in the following spring, and Henry went to Rome to apply for the legateship to Lucius II. The empress sent representatives to oppose. Lucius set aside the charges which they brought against him, but declined to make him legate. It is said that while he held the legatine office he introduced the custom of appeals to Rome; but the passage on which this statement is founded seems to refer to appeals to himself as legate (Henry of Huntingdon, p. 282). Appeals to Rome were made in earlier times, though they certainly became more frequent during the reign of Stephen (Const. Hist. iii. 349). Henry continued to uphold the right of his nephew William to the archbishopric of York, which was vigorously disputed, and after William was deposed in 1147 took him into his house and treated him as archbishop. His influence at Rome was wholly at an end, for Eugenius III and Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux, favoured Archbishop Theobald, and treated the bishop's efforts in behalf of his nephew as part of the quarrel about the legation, while, as the attempt to establish William at York was bitterly opposed by the Cistercian houses in the north, Henry's policy was specially displeasing to the Cistercian pope and his great adviser. The monks of Hyde Abbey appealed to Rome against him on account of the general injuries which he had done their house and of the destruction of their cross, and Bernard upheld their cause. In 1148 Henry advised Stephen to forbid Archbishop Theobald to attend the papal council at Rheims on 21 March, and he was therefore suspended. The Count of Blois, however, interceded for him, and the sentence was relaxed on condition of his appearing at Rome within six months; this he failed to do, and was therefore under the papal sentence. Theobald returned to England, and at the king's request was reconciled to Henry, who in 1151 went to Rome, travelling in much state. At Rome he had to meet the charges brought against him by the Abbot Bernard, by the monks of Hyde, and many others. He obtained absolution, not, it is said, without payment of a large sum, and efforts were made by his friends to prevail on the pope to grant him either a legatine commission or the exemption of his see from metropolitan jurisdiction; but Eugenius refused, for it was believed, though unjustly, that he had prompted his brother against the church. Still at his request Eugenius bade Henry Murdac, who was then in possession of the see of York, absolve Hugh of Puiset, the treasurer of York and the bishop's nephew, who was doing good service for his uncle by guarding his castles in his absence. Bishop Henry purchased statuary in Italy for his house at Winchester; he had cultivated tastes and liked the society of learned men. He came back by sea with his purchases, and on his way stopped to visit the shrine of St. James at Compostella, and did not arrive in England until after September 1152. The civil war was dying out, and he sincerely repented of the part which he had had in fomenting it. Accordingly he did all in his power to promote peace, and was active in forwarding the treaty made between Stephen and Duke Henry at Wallingford, and concluded in November 1153 at Winchester, where he received the duke with honour. At the following Easter he entertained his nephew, Archbishop William, at Winchester on his return from Rome before going to his province, for Henry Murdac was then dead.

Stephen died on 25 Oct., and on 19 Dec. Henry assisted at the coronation of Henry II. He is said to have recommended Thomas Becket to the king for the office of chancellor. In 1155 he left England without the king's permission, having sent on his treasure secretly before him. Henry seized on his castles, pulled down the tower of Wolvesey, and destroyed the castles at Merdon and Bishops Waltham. The king's intention of taking his castles from him was no doubt the cause of his leaving the kingdom. He stayed a welcome guest at Clugny, and proved himself, according to Peter the Venerable, the greatest benefactor that the house ever had; for, at the request of Pope Hadrian IV, he paid off the whole debt which was then pressing on the convent and supported the 460 monks for a year. He was urged to return by Archbishop Theobald, probably in 1157, and was back in England in the spring of 1159, but returned to Clugny, and was there in the early part of 1162. On 3 June he consecrated Thomas as archbishop of Canterbury, and before the ceremony began demanded and obtained from the king's representative a full release from all claims which might be made on Thomas in connection with the chancellorship. This is perhaps the origin of the story told by Giraldus that he set before Thomas the necessity of choosing whether he would serve an earthly or a heavenly king. He was present at the council of Clarendon in January 1164, and after the council must have had converse with the archbishop, who withdrew for a while to Winchester. At the council of Northampton in October he was reluctantly obliged to pronounce judgment against Thomas in the suit of John the Marshal, and when the king proceeded to demand a statement of Thomas's accounts as chancellor boldly opposed the demand. The next day he advised Thomas not to listen to those who were recommending him to make an absolute submission. Such a course would, he urged, put the church under the arbitrary control of the crown, and he further pointed out that Thomas had been released from all secular claims at his consecration. When, on a later day of the session, the bishops tried to persuade the archbishop to yield, Henry appears to have shown him some special mark of friendship; he afterwards declared that Thomas had a right to carry his cross when entering the king's hall, and when he heard that the archbishop had left the country wished him God's blessing. Soon after this he seems to have been under the king's displeasure, and Pope Alexander III wrote to Thomas that he heard that it was probable Henry would resign his bishopric on account of the injuries which he had received from the king. Thomas wrote to Henry a letter of sympathy in which he blamed him for having removed a cross. This was probably the Hyde cross which Henry restored in 1167. He did not approve of the line taken by the archbishop while in exile, joined in the bishops' defence of the king in 1166, and appealed against him before the legates in November 1167. Nevertheless he retained his loyalty towards him; he sent him assistance, steadfastly refused to hold communion with those whom he excommunicated, and was regarded by him as ‘a wall of the house of Israel.’ During these his later years he was humble and religious, and about 1168 gave away all his goods in charity, leaving himself and his household bare means of subsistence, and devoting himself to prayer and acts of penitence. Three stories are told of his diocesan government. One, which apparently belongs to about 1159, relates how, after he had vainly tried to make his clergy use silver instead of pewter chalices, he overcame their meanness by making them present their contributions to him in respect of an aid in silver chalices which he gave back to them; while at another time, when other bishops were levying money from their clergy, he gathered his together and, telling them that he did not care to increase his hoard, demanded only prayers and masses. The third story represents him as merciful towards the erring (Giraldus Cambrensis, vii. 47–9). When he heard of the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas, he grieved that he, though so much older, was still left on earth.

Bishop Henry was dying when the king returned to England on 6 Aug. 1171. The king at once visited him, and the bishop rebuked him severely for the archbishop's death. On the 8th he died, ‘full of days’ (Diceto, i. 347). There seems no reason to doubt that he was buried in front of the high altar of his cathedral church, where the remains of a bishop with a crozier and ring were discovered some years ago. During his lifetime Peter the Venerable had written to ask him to order that he should be buried at Clugny, and, as there does not appear to be any record of his burial, some have supposed that this was done; but there is no reason to doubt that the bones found at Winchester are the relics of the bishop. He founded the hospital of St. Cross, near Winchester, for thirteen aged men and for providing a hundred poor persons with a daily dinner. His foundation was enlarged by Cardinal Henry Beaufort [q. v.] He was also a benefactor to Taunton Priory, founded by his predecessor, William Giffard [q. v.] (Hugo, Hist. Taunton Priory, p. 4). In his cathedral Henry built a treasure-house and enriched the church with many relics, and probably also gave the richly carved font which still exists. He also collected the bones of the great persons buried in the church and placed them in painted chests.

[For a favourable view of Henry's character see John of Hexham, ed. Raine, p. 146 (Surtees Soc.); Chron. Prioris Vosiensis, Labbe, Bibl. Nov. ii. 309; Peter the Venerable, Migne clxxxix. 204, 229, 243, 277; Giraldus Cambr., Vita S. Remigii, c. 27, ed. Brewer, vii. 43–9 (Rolls Ser.); Ann. Winton, ed. Luard, p. 60 (Rolls Ser.); and for other side Liber de Hyda, Introd. and passim. An excellent estimate in Norgate's Angevin Kings, i. 347 sqq.; and less favourable in Kitchin's Winchester, p. 95 (Historic Towns Ser.). For work at Glastonbury, John of Glastonbury, pp. 160–70, ed. Hearne; Orderic, pp. 908, 920, Duchesne; Gervase; Ralph de Diceto; Hen. of Huntingdon (all Rolls Ser.); William of Malmesbury, Hist. Nov.; Flor. of Worc. Cont.; Gesta Stephani; Will. of Newburgh (all Engl. Hist. Soc.); Vita Abb. Becc., Giles's Lanfranc, i. 338–9; John of Salisbury, iii. 164, ed. Giles. For relations with Archbishop Thomas, see Materials for Life of Becket (Rolls Ser.); and specially Will. of Canterbury, i. 9; Alan of Tewkesbury, ii. 327; Will Fitz-Stephen, iii. 50; Herb. of Bosham, iii. 303, and Letters, v. 71, 255, vi. 45, 138, 272; Garnier, pp. 19, 54, ed. Hippeau.]

W. H.